A Death in Summer: A Novel (Quirke)

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9781427212375: A Death in Summer: A Novel (Quirke)
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One of The Chicago Tribune's Best Reads of 2011

One of Dublin's most powerful men meets a violent end-- and an acknowledged master of crime fiction delivers his most gripping novel yet

On a sweltering summer afternoon, newspaper tycoon Richard Jewell--known to his many enemies as Diamond Dick--is discovered with his head blown off by a shotgun blast. But is it suicide or murder? For help with the investigation, Detective Inspector Hackett calls in his old friend Quirke, who has unusual access to Dublin's elite.

Jewell's coolly elegant French wife, Françoise, seems less than shocked by her husband's death. But Dannie, Jewell's high-strung sister, is devastated, and Quirke is surprised to learn that in her grief she has turned to an unexpected friend: David Sinclair, Quirke's ambitious assistant in the pathology lab at the Hospital of the Holy Family. Further, Sinclair has been seeing Quirke's fractious daughter Phoebe, and an unlikely romance is blossoming between the two. As a record heat wave envelops the city and the secret deals underpinning Diamond Dick's empire begin to be revealed, Quirke and Hackett find themselves caught up in a dark web of intrigue and violence that threatens to end in disaster.

Tightly plotted and gorgeously written, A Death in Summer proves to the brilliant but sometimes reckless Quirke that in a city where old money and the right bloodlines rule, he is by no means safe from mortal danger.

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About the Author:

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the novelist John Banville. As Black, he is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Quirke novels, including Christine Falls, The Silver Swan, and Elegy for April, and his standalone novel, The Lemur. Christine Falls was nominated for both the Edgar Award and Macavity Award for Best Novel. Writing as John Banville, his novel The Sea is the winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Black was born in Wexford, Ireland, and lives in Dublin.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

When word got about that Richard Jewell had been found with the greater part of his head blown off and clutching a shotgun in his bloodless hands, few outside the family circle and few inside it, either, considered his demise a cause for sorrow. Jewell, known to the jauntier among his detractors as Diamond Dick, had been a wealthy man. The bulk of his money he had inherited from his father, the notorious Francis T.—Francie—Jewell, sometime Lord Mayor and proprietor of a highly successful newspaper chain that included the scurrilous and much-feared Daily Clarion, the city's top-selling paper. The older Jewell had been something of an uncut stone, given to violent vendettas and a loathing of trades unions, but his son, though no less unscrupulous and vengeful, had sought to polish the family name to a high luster by means of well-publicized acts of philanthropy. Richard Jewell was known for his sponsorship of orphanages and schools for the handicapped, while the recently opened Jewell Wing of the Hospital of the Holy Family was in the vanguard of the fight against tuberculosis. These and other initiatives should have made Dick Jewell a hero in a city beset by poverty and chronic ill health, but now that he was dead many among the citizenry declared themselves ready to dance on his grave.

His corpse was discovered that Sunday afternoon in his office above the stables at Brooklands, the place in County Kildare jointly owned by him and his wife. Maguire, the yard manager, had come up by the outside stairs to give him a report of a stallion that was lame and unlikely to run the following Thursday in an evening fixture at Leopardstown. The door to the office was ajar but Maguire had known better than to walk in without knocking. Right away, though, he had the feeling that something was seriously amiss. When asked later to describe this feeling he could not; only the hair, he said, had stood up on the back of his neck, and he distinctly remembered hearing Blue Lightning sending up a whinny in the quiet below in the yard; Blue Lightning was Dick Jewell's darling, a three-year-old with the highest potential.

The shotgun blast had lifted Jewell out of his chair and flung him backwards at a crooked angle across the desk, where he lay with a bit of jawbone and a few teeth and a bloodied stump of spine, all that was left of what had been his head, dangling down on the far side. On the big picture window in front of the desk there was a great splatter of blood and brains, like a giant peony blossom, with a gaping hole in the middle of it giving a view of rolling grasslands stretching off to the horizon. Maguire at first could hardly take in what had happened. It looked as if the man had shot himself, but Diamond Dick Jewell was the last person Maguire or anyone else would have expected to blow his own head off.

Rumors and speculation started up at once. It added to the shock of the event that it had taken place on a drowsy Sunday afternoon in summer, while the beeches along the drive at Brooklands sweltered in the sun and the mingled smell of hay and horses lay heavy on the summer air. Not that many were privy to the details of what had happened. Who knew better than the Jewells how to hush up a scandal? And a suicide, in these days, in this place, was a very grave scandal indeed.

In the Clarion offices on Eden Quay the atmosphere was a combination of pandemonium and wondering disbelief. The staff, from copyboys to editorial, felt as if they were moving underwater, or through a medium heavier and more hindering than water, and yet at the same time everything seemed to be racing along like a river in spate and carrying all before it. The editor, Harry Clancy, had come in from Portmarnock, where a caddy had been sent on a bicycle to intercept him at the twelfth hole, and he was still in golfing gear, the studs in his shoes rattling out a tattoo on the lino as he marched back and forth in front of his desk dictating a eulogy which his secretary, the no longer young and faintly mustached Miss Somers, was taking down in longhand on a pad of copy paper.

". . . should have been struck down in the prime of life," Clancy was intoning, "by a cerebral hemorrhage—" He broke off and looked at Miss Somers, who had stopped writing and sat motionless with her pencil suspended over the sheaf of paper on her knee. "What's the matter?"

Miss Somers seemed not to have heard him, and began writing again. ". . . in the prime of life . . ." she murmured, scoring the words laboriously into the cheap gray paper.

"What am I supposed to say?" Clancy demanded. "That the boss blew his brains out?"

". . . by a cer-e-bral hem-orrh-age . . ."

"All right, all right, cut that." Clancy had been pleased with himself for having hit on such an acceptable-sounding cause of death. It had been a kind of hemorrhage, had it not? There was bound to have been plenty of blood, anyway, seeing it was a shotgun Jewell had used on himself. The Clarion would not say it was suicide, nor would any of its rivals; suicides never got reported in the press—it was an unspoken convention, to spare the feelings of the relatives and make sure the insurance companies would not seize on it as an excuse to renege on paying out to the family. All the same, Clancy thought, better not to print an outright lie. It would get around soon enough that the boss had topped himself—Jesus, there was an apt phrase!—no matter what convenient lies were told. "Just say at the tragically early age of forty-five and at the pinnacle of his professional career and leave it at that."

He thrust his hands into his pockets and crossed clatteringly to the window and stood looking down at the river. Did no one ever clean this glass? He was hardly able to see out. Everything was shimmering in the heat out there and he could almost taste the cindery dust in the air, and the river had a bilious stink that no thickness of grimed glass could shut out. "Read it over to me so far," he growled. He had been on fine form on the course today, with three bogeys and a birdie at the ninth.

His secretary risked a sideways glance at him. That pink pullover might be all right on the golf course, she thought, but here in the office it made him look like a superannuated nancy boy. He was a stout man with a head of auburn curls, graying now, and a cross-hatching of livid veins over his cheekbones that was the legacy of a lifetime's hard drinking. He should beware a brain hemorrhage himself, Miss Somers considered. He was the fourth editor she had worked for in the forty years of her employment at the Clarion, not counting Eddie Randall, who broke down after a fortnight in the job and was sacked. She remembered old man Jewell, the well-named Francie; over a hot port in Mooney's one Christmas he had made an indecent proposal to her that she had pretended not to understand. All the same, he was a real man, not like the fellows going about now, calling themselves journalists—what ever happened to reporters?—and spending half the working week playing golf and the other half in the pub.

Clancy was off again, pacing and prating: ". . . scion of a great Dublin family and a—" He stopped again, checked as Miss Somers delicately but unignorably cleared her throat. "What is it now?"

"Pardon me, Mr. Clancy—but what was that word?"

"What?" He was baffled.

"Do you mean scion?" Miss Somers asked. "I believe that's how it's pronounced, not skion."

She would not raise her eyes to his, and he stood in the middle of the floor breathing hard and gazing at the white parting down the center of her silver hair with an expression of angry helplessness. Bloody, impossible, dried-up old maid! "Oh, do forgive my ignorance, please," he said with weary sarcasm, "—scion of a great Dublin family . . ." And a ruthless bastard, he was thinking, who would tear out your heart as quick as look at you. He waved a hand impatiently and went and sat down behind his desk. "We'll finish it later," he said, "there's plenty of time. Ask the switch to get me Hackett over at Pearse Street, will you?"

···

But Inspector Hackett, of course, was out at Brooklands. Like Clancy, he was not in a good mood. He had just finished his Sunday dinner—a nice leg of lamb—and was getting ready to go down to Wicklow for a bit of fishing when the phone rang. A phone call on a Sunday afternoon had to be either from his sister-in-law, threatening a visit with her brood, or from the station. Today, somehow, just by listening to the bell shrilling, he had known which one it was, and that the matter was going to be a weighty one. The new fellow, Jenkins, had picked him up in a squad car; he had heard the yowling of the siren from three streets away. His wife had made him a sandwich from the leftover lamb—May's main task in life nowadays seemed to be to keep him fed—and the warmish wad of bread and meat wrapped in greaseproof paper and making his jacket pocket sag was an annoyance to him. He would have thrown it out of the window of the squad car when they got into the country except that he would have felt disloyal.

Jenkins was in a state of high excitement. This was the first serious job he had taken part in since he had been assigned to work with Detective Inspector Hackett, and serious it certainly promised to be. Although initial reports from Brooklands had suggested that Richard Jewell had killed himself, Hackett was skeptical, and suspected foul play. Jenkins did not understand how the Inspector was managing to be so calm—even with all his years of service he could not have dealt with more than a handful of murder cases, and certainly not with one as sensational as this, if murder it was. All he seemed concerned about, however, was the fact that his fishing trip had to be canceled. When he had come out of the house, his missus hovering behind him in the shadow of the doorway, he had been scowling, and the first thing he had done when he got in the car was demand why the hell the siren had been going, since it was Sunday and there was hardly a vehicle on the streets, and after that he had not spoken a dozen words until they got to Kildare town. There they had to ask the way to Brooklands, which made him all the more annoyed—"Would you not have thought of looking at the bloody map before you set out?" And then, when they reached Brooklands at last, there was the worst humiliation of all. A corpse was one thing, but a corpse with nothing where its head should be except part of the jaw and that gristly bit of spine sticking out at the back was altogether another. "Get out!" the Inspector had shouted at him when he saw him turn green. "Get out before you puke on the evidence!" And poor Jenkins had stumbled down the wooden stairway outside and coughed up the remains of his dinner in a corner of the cobbled yard.

It felt strange to Hackett to be standing here, on a fine country estate, with the birds singing all about and a slab of sunlight falling at his heels from the open doorway of Jewell's office, and at the same time to have the old familiar smell of violent death in his nostrils. Not that he had smelled it so very often, but once caught it was never to be forgotten, that mingled faint stink of blood and excrement and something else, something thin and sharp and insidious, the smell of terror itself, perhaps, or of despair—or was he being fanciful? Could despair and terror really leave a trace? He heard Jenkins down in the yard, dry retching now. He could not find it in his heart to blame the poor chap for his weakness; Jewell was a frightful sight, sprawled across the desk as crooked as a corkscrew with his brains spattered all over the window behind him. The shotgun was a beauty, he noticed, a Purdey, if he was not mistaken.

Jenkins came clumping up the wooden stairs and stopped just inside the door. "Sorry, Inspector."

Hackett did not turn. He was standing at the desk with his hands in his trouser pockets and his hat pushed to the back of his head. There was a shine, Jenkins noted, on the elbows and the backside of his blue suit. He peered past his boss's shoulder at the thing that had been thrown over the desk like a side of beef. He was disappointed; he had been hoping for a murder, but the corpse was holding the gun in its own hands.

They heard a car drawing up in the yard. Jenkins glanced back down the stairs. "Forensics," he said.

The Inspector made a chopping gesture with the side of his hand, still not turning. "Tell them to wait a minute. Tell them"—he laughed shortly—"tell them I'm cogitating."

Jenkins went down the wooden steps, and there was the sound of voices in the yard, and then he came back. Hackett would have liked to be alone. He always had a peculiar sense of peace in the presence of the dead; it was the same feeling, he realized with a start, that he had now when May went up to bed early and left him in his armchair by the hearth, with a glass of something in his hand, studying the faces in the fire. This was not a good sign, this hankering after solitude. It was the other, sweeter smells, of horses and hay and the like, that was making him think in this way—of the past, of his childhood, of death, and of the ones of his who had died down the years.

"Who was it found him?" he asked. "The groom, was it?"

"Yard manager," Jenkins, behind him, said. "Name of Maguire."

"Maguire. Aye." Scenes such as this of bloody mischief were a stopped moment of time, a slice taken out of the ordinary flow of things and held suspended, like a specimen pressed between the glass slides under a microscope. "Did he hear the gunshot?"

"He says not."

"Where is he now?"

"In the house. Mrs. Jewell brought him in, he was that shocked."

"She's here, the missus—the widow?" Jewell's wife was foreign, he recalled. Spanish, was it? No, French. "Did she hear the gun?"

"I haven't talked to her."

Hackett took a step forward and touched the dead man's wrist. Cold. Could have been lying here for hours, no one the wiser. "Tell those forensics lads to come up." Jenkins went to the door. "And where's Harrison, is he on the way?" Harrison was the state pathologist.

"Sick, apparently."

"Or out on that boat of his, more likely."

"He had a heart attack, it seems."

"Did he?"

"Last week."

"Christ."

"They're sending Dr. Quirke."

"Are they, now."

Maguire was a big man with a big square head and square rope-veined hands that even yet were noticeably trembling. He sat at the kitchen table in a patch of yellow sunlight with a mug of tea before him, staring at nothing. He was ashen, and his lower lip too was unsteady. Hackett stood and gazed at him, frowning. The ones that look the toughest, he was thinking, are always the hardest hit. There was a vase of pink tulips on the table. Off in the fields somewhere a tractor was buzzing; haymaking, on a Sunday afternoon, to get the best of the weather. Rain was forecast for later in the week. A big wireless set standing on a shelf beside the sink was muttering to itself in an undertone.

Hackett had met Richard Jewell only once, at a fund-raiser for Garda widows. Jewell had a bland sheen to him, like all rich men, and only the eyes were real...

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